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Concert Review: Madonna brings the Celebration tour to Vancouver

By the time Madonna said good night, even the most diehard fan knew they got their money’s worth

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Madonna four decades. That’s what the back of one of the $55 tees for sale at the merch booth declared.

Madonna for decades.

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It’s how long the Material Madam has been bringing her brand of pop art to places like Rogers Arena last night on the Celebration Tour. At one point, in one of the many career-spanning photo montages she even declared that, “the most controversial thing I’ve ever done is stick around.” It’s been an epic run and still going strong.

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In a lavish production that showcased the earliest days of her 1983 debut right up to the closing number Bitch, I’m Madonna from 2015’s Rebel Heart, the 26-song set was as hit laden as expected. It also veered off wildly in all directions. Presented as a seven-act evening, it could have used some additional dramaturgy.

Following DJ Mary Mac 5 Star’s hype set mixing mid-90s classics that fit the audience demo and included several mentions of the headliner’s name — in case you didn’t know where you were — the countdown commenced. MC Bob the Drag Queen appeared decked out like an extra from a regency ball and got people shouting.

Madonna rose up onto the stage to perform Nothing Really Matters from 1998’s Ray of Light, appropriately illuminated in an LED halo. It wouldn’t be the last time in the show that religious iconography was referenced, not by a long shot. Then the party started with Everybody getting every body on their feet.

Everyone, that is, save the person that Madonna called out in the floor seats who wasn’t standing up.

When it became clear this was because said individual couldn’t stand up, the singer decided to dig in by not apologizing, instead taking the moment to make some glib statement about this not being the first time that happened. And asking had she said something politically incorrect?

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Doubling down on ableism isn’t courting controversy in the culture wars. It’s classless, or worse.

But then it was time to get Into the Groove with the best-dressed dance crew to grace a concert stage in years.

Referencing New York City in its heyday, purple mohawked punks and King’s Road pearly kings gyrated with glee, traversing the maze of stage runners as Madonna pranced among them. The fact that her right leg was encased in what looked pretty much like a fashionably concealed knee brace was reinforced through the evening, as her dancing was — for lack of a better word — safely choreographed.

With all of the magnificent movement going on all around, it wasn’t a big deal. As befits past tours, this was also an exceptionally athletic presentation.

The purpose of the performance was to tell a story of a career that has generated over 300 million in sales, and a devoted fan base that spans generations for good reason.

From her punk rock roots to the explosion that followed Like A Virgin, it’s a tale writ large across music, film and print. At one point in another hagiographic montage, artists ranging from Beyoncé to Ariana Grande and others gave Madonna the props she’s earned as a trail-blazing women in the music business.

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From those early hook-laden classics like Holiday, the night moved onto meatier fare like Live to Tell, with its several screens of photos of those lost to the AIDS pandemic. The simulated masturbation sequence preceding Erotica can probably still upset clerics. Of all of the evenings’ acts, none was as fun as Act IV. It turned the arena into the NYC ballroom scene that influenced the hit Vogue.

The extended sequence where decked out dancers walked the stage’s main runway for Madonna and another judge from the crowd — who some said was Pamela Anderson — was an utter delight and another tour de force for the show’s costume designer. It’s not every concert where even the camera tech gets decked out, in this case in a credible take on the cop from the Village People.

The extended riff on the Book of Revelation that began with a pit of fire and then went on and on and on, like a really bad Sunday school play where you can’t leave the pews without being spotted, was exceedingly overwrought. However, once it veered into a whole medieval bondage Catherine wheel concept, complete with illuminated crosses and monk’s robes, things hit a whole new level of fun. There may have been a statement in there somewhere, but the topless dancers’ chests and abs were just too distracting to get it.

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Other highlights included daughter Mercy James accompanying her mother on piano for the rendition of Bad Girl. Complete with Fabulous Baker Brothers-style, top-of-the-piano writhing, James kept a straight face. But I could swear I saw a “mom puh-leez” eye roll at one point.

The crowd ate up every bit.

By the time she said good night, even the most diehard fan knew they got their money’s worth from the hard-working pop icon.

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